The term natural history has been used since classical antiquity to refer to a set of scientific disciplines that since the 19th century are also sometimes referred to as natural sciences, mainly zoology, botany, mineralogy and geology. Both terms, "natural history" and "natural sciences", belong to the same semantic field, although an important difference between the two is that "natural history" places more emphasis on the conservation of samples and specimens from the natural world, while «natural sciences» covers a more general meaning, including in its object of study non-collectible entities such as stars or radiations, or allegedly universal physical principles, typical of physics or chemistry, among other possible sciences.
The term “natural history” comes, on the one hand, from the Greek ἱστορία (history), translatable by “investigation” or “information”, knowledge acquired by investigation; from the verb ἱστορεῖν, "investigate" past knowledge; and, on the other hand, from the Latin word natura, which means "nature", "belonging to or relating to nature, or according to the quality or property of things", "natural character".
A term difficult to define
Due to the above, «natural history» and «natural sciences» are therefore terms whose definition and differentiation are problematic, as they sometimes address the same disciplines, although in a different way. Many of these views include the study of living things (for example, biology, including botany, zoology, and ecology); other conceptions extend the term to the field of paleontology, geography and biochemistry, as well as to geology, astronomy, environmental studies and physics. A person interested or specialized in natural history is called a naturalist. Initially, the main activity of naturalists consisted of amateur research, almost never professional.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, natural history was a term frequently used to refer to all scientific studies, as opposed to political or ecclesiastical (theological) history.
Until the nineteenth century, natural history had been an eminently much more descriptive than experimental science, mainly due to the arrival in that century of the specialization and fragmentation of the branches of knowledge. So much so that in the 20th century, natural history as a traditional autonomous discipline had already been definitively surpassed by the practice of the disciplines that are biology and geology, for a more detailed study of the objects to which history had always been dedicated. 'natural history': both living and fossil organisms on the one hand, and minerals and rocks on the other hand. Subjected to the same process typical of the 19th century, traditional cosmology also in the 20th century began to divide into more specialized disciplines such as modern astronomy and the origin and history of the universe.
On the other hand, «History» is conceived as the science that studies the past, traditionally the past of humanity, in an interdisciplinary framework. In turn, we call the past itself "history", and we can even speak of a "Natural History" in which humanity was not present.
Natural History Societies
The term natural history, alone, or sometimes associated with archeology or paleontology, is part of the name of many national, regional and local associations that are responsible for the registration of birds, mammals, insects, and plants. They usually include sections dedicated to the record of microscopic life and geology.
Natural History Museums